Extra Credit

(By Julie Zhu)
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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dear Extra Credit:

I have no children in county schools at this point, but I read Extra Credit fairly faithfully and remember debates about Advanced Placement courses and which students could be in them, should be in them or perhaps could not or should not be in them.

An article in The Washington Post ["Tackling Toni Morrison," Jan. 21] concerning the reading of the Nobel laureate novelist quoted two AP English students on the admittedly difficult works. One gave the opinion, "Well, she shouldn't have wrote it." Another AP student said "what she's writing about don't relate to me."

A grasp of standard English usage is surely needed for an Advanced Placement course in English. Or isn't it?

Pen West


I suspect many readers reacted to my colleague Ian Shapira's fine reportage in that way, but think about it. Does that mean that I can't take an advanced tennis class until I have perfected my second serve, or that my attempt to learn to play Bach is useless because I can't bridge a full octave? We all learn at different rates and in different ways. I might be able to analyze Shakespeare brilliantly but mispronounce many of the words in his plays. The AP students quoted are learning in that class. The more they read and discuss Morrison, with their well-spoken teacher as their guide, the more they are likely to adopt standard English, at least in the classroom. That is what teaching is all about. I worry more about us worrying so much about preparation that we sort students into classes in which they are not asked to learn very much.

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